Sturgis was born in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. His parents were Mary Brandenburg and James Sturgis. He entered United States Military Academy at the age of twenty and was graduated in the famous class of 1846 as a brevet second lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Dragoons. That class also included among its graduates John Gibbon, George B. McClellan, Jesse Reno, and George Stoneman, who would fight on the Union side and Ambrose Powell Hill, Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson, and George Pickett, who would fight on the Confederate side.
During the Mexican-American War, he served with the 1st U.S. Dragoons and was captured and held for eight days as a prisoner of war while making a reconnaissance near Buena Vista, Mexico. After the war, he served in the West, was promoted to first lieutenant and captain, and took part in a number of Indian campaigns. During this time, Sturgis was sent to West Ely, Missouri, where he met Jerusha Wilcox. In 1851 they married and had six children. A sculpture of him mounted on horseback is located at the eastern entrance of the town named for him, on South Dakota Highway 34 and 79.
I think it's worth giving this old thread a bump, especially as we approach the Anniversary of the Battle, to remind everyone that the commander of the United States 7th Cavalry Regiment on June 25, 1876 was Colonel Samuel D. Sturgis. Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer was the regiment's executive officer throughout his service with it.
It may surprise a few to learn that Custer never officially commanded the regiment, although he was usually "in command" (acting commander) of it's field element during active operations. Soldiers of that era often belonged to one regiment for their entire career. They seldom "transferred" in an official and permanent sense to another assignment but a soldier would sometimes be absent from his regiment on detached service for a long period. Still, he was carried on the regiment's rolls while absent and if he stayed in the Army long enough he would be back at his regiment. Thus it was with Sturgis. He was in, I believe, St. Louis on recruiting duty during the battle, getting boys to sign up for "his" regiment. And it was his regiment, not Custer's.
I don't know, but I suspect that's why Custer never relieved or transferred Reno or Benteen (assuming he wanted to). He would not have had the authority to. Because no matter how much newspapers of the day referred to "Custer's 7th" in headlines, the 7th Cavalry was not his regiment.
Last Edit: Jun 23, 2017 16:41:43 GMT -5 by sgttyree
The Lt Col,or any officer in acting command of a regiment, could not change the standing orders of the regiment's Col, nor could he change the regimental staff officers appointed by the Col. Lts Cooke and Nowlan were Sturgis' appointees. Acting commanders could fill vacancies as Reno did when he appointed Wallace as adjutant after Cooke's death, and acting commanders could assign officers to command battalion, which were not organic units of regiments but ad hoc arrangements, and reassign lts temporarily to different companies.
There was no such thing as a field element of a regiment. If the regimental HQ was in the field the regiment was in the field and the commander Col, Lt Col, Maj, or Capt in command was the regimental commander. At the Washita 11 companies and the HQ was in the field; at the LBH 12 Companies and the HQ were in the field, and Custer was the regimental commander in both instances. When 10 companies and later 8 companies were in the field during the Yellowstone Expedition Custer commanded those companies as a battalion of the 7th Cav. The same goes for the 10 companies without regimental HQ in the Black Hills.
Sturgis was in command of the Mounted Recruiting Service and had to supply men to all the mounted regiments. Each regiment usually provided one officer to recruiting duty at a time. He would be assigned to a city and would provide men generally to all regiments, though he might request some men for his own company or regiment. Company commanders could request that the recruiting service provide certain specialists, such as tailors and trumpeters
Not even Colonels could transfer an officer out or their regiments. With the exception of 2nd Lts when vacancies existed, there was no place to transfer officers to. The officer had to try the work out an exchange with another officer . That transfer had to be approved by the Adjutant General of the Army, and when and if it went through both officer would lose their seniority.
The Lt Col,or any officer in acting command of a regiment, could not change the standing orders of the regiment's Col, nor could he change the regimental staff officers appointed by the Col.
That's really what I was trying to get at.
I also like your phrase "in acting command of a regiment" because it's an accurate turn of words. Custer was acting regimental commander, so he was in command while the regimental commander is away. I get that. I'm just pointing out there is difference between who is the regimental commander and who is acting commander in the commander's absence. And if Sturgis had returned, Custer would not have been in command.
There was no such thing as a field element of a regiment.
I also get that. That's not some kind of official term, just my way of trying to describe what was going on in Sturgis' absence. It would have been better for me to have said, "Custer was acting commander of the regiment in the field that day." You could also point out that Custer was usually acting commander of the regiment when it was not in the field, but that might lead some to think the 7th was usually garrisoned together as a whole, when in fact there were times when some of the companies were detached and temporarily not under Custer's (or Sturgis') command.
Sturgis was in command of the Mounted Recruiting Service and had to supply men to all the mounted regiments. Each regiment usually provided one officer to recruiting duty at a time. He would be assigned to a city and would provide men generally to all regiments, though he might request some men for his own. company or regiment.
Thanks for clearing that up. I was aware Sturgis was recruiting. I had assumed (dangerous thing to do sometimes) that a regimental colonel would be recruiting for his own regiment.
Last Edit: Jun 25, 2017 0:01:16 GMT -5 by sgttyree
From the Army and Navy Journal on the Battle of the Little Big Horn and Related Matters, by James Hutchins, pg. 54-55, with my annotations in brackets and minor corrections in punctuation added:
NOTE FROM GENERAL STURGIS
To the Editor of the St. Louis Times:
In your article of this morning headed "A Curse on Custer," giving the result of an interview between your reporter and myself yesterday, some strong language is used which cannot be justified by anything I said, and must have been the result of an unfortunate misunderstanding. If Gen. Custer had any one trait more fully developed than another, it was probably that of dauntless courage. This, all will admit who ever knew him, and I am as unwilling as another to detract a single iota from his fame in this regard. But Gen. Custer, having been a public servant of the nation, and engaged in an important military enterprise, the manner in which the enterprise was conducted becomes a matter of public solicitation, inquiry, and even criticism. In view of the case, I gave my own views fully and freely, and possibly warmly, to your own reporter, and he has, in the main, embodied them correctly; but when he represents me as saying, "Why was not Gen. Custer at the head of his troops, instead of a long way in the rear of them -- why was not his body found where the hottest fight occurred, instead of back on the knoll?" he does Gen. Custer and myself, no doubt unintentionally, a very grave wrong. I can readily see how what I did say may have been misunderstood.
I was speaking of an article I had seen in a paper extolling the manner of Custer's death "at the head of his troops and surrounded by his chosen band of officers." "Now," I said, placing my finger on the map where his trail met the river, and where the fallen soldiers showed the carnage to have been [note: this would likely be in the area of Ford C at the mouth of Deep Ravine in the opinion of the editor], 'if Gen. Custer's body had been found here, surrounded by the bodies of his officers, then, while we might deplore his error of judgement, yet all would have to admire the gallant manner in which he paid the penalty of his error, by gallantly dying at the head of his troops; but this was not the case. On the contrary, he fell here" -- placing my finger on the map where the knoll is marked -- "not among his soldiers, but away in the rear of them all and surrounded only by officers, all of whom appear to have fallen fighting desperately for their lives. I knew every one of them, and they were a gallant set of gentlemen; but I can see nothing in the desperate defense of their lives to call for the erection of a monument to Gen. Custer,' etc. [Note: It seems that Gen. Sturgis was of the belief that his son was killed near the mouth of Ford C in the area of Deep Ravine, thus his apparent resentment regarding Custer and the rest of his officers being found on Last Stand Hill a distance away from the river. Had Lt. Sturgis' body been found on Last Stand Hill, I suspect that Gen. Sturgis' objections would have been less obvious.]
Now, Mr. Editor, I trust you will do me the favor of inserting this explanation into the next issue of your paper, so that my true relation to this unfortunate affair may appear as early as possible. The criticism [of Custer], generally, is reported correctly and is a result of the careful comparison of Gen. Terry's official report with an official map of the field of battle, together with my intimate knowledge of Gen. Custer's character, and of the estimation in which he was held in his regiment and throughout the Army. He wrote much upon the subject of Indian warfare, and the people of the country who read his articles naturally supposed he had great experience in savage warfare, but this was not so, his experience was exceedingly limited, and that he was overreached by Indian tactics, and hundreds of valuable lives [ed. including most especially his own son] sacrificed thereby, will astonish those alone who may have read his writings -- [but] not those who were best acquainted with him and knew the peculiarities of his character. [Note: Gen. Sturgis would apparently not include here the opinions of Gen. Sheridan, Gen. Rosser or Gen. Miles in this assessment.]
S. D. STURGIS, Brevet Maj.-Gen. U. S. Army. ST. LOUIS BARRACKS, July 14, 1876.
The Chicago Tribune prints a telegram from St. Louis, dated 18th inst. [of July 1876] in which the correspondent gives an account of an interview with Gen. Sturgis concerning the latter's recent criticism of Gen. Custer, with my annotations in brackets. The correspondent says:
Gen. Sturgis said: What I especially deprecate is the manner in which some papers have sought to make a demigod out of Custer, and to erect a monument to Custer and none to his soldiers. On the field of slaughter the bodies of 300 or more soldiers were found piled up in a little ravine, while behind were found those of Custer and his little band of chosen officers. [Note: Gen. Sturgis is greatly exaggerating or clearly mistaken here. There were actually 28 dead men in Deep Ravine. Sturgis focuses his attention on this ravine as he believed it to be the location where his son, Lt. James Sturgis, was killed.] When the officers of these men fell, who was there to rally him? Why were not some of the other officers sent forward with them? If relief had come to the party between these two points [ie. between Last Stand Hill and Deep Ravine], what a sight it would have been to find 300 [sic. 28 or so] soldiers collected on one side, and, in the rear, the commander of the little force surrounded by its officers!
Custer was a brave man, but he was also a very selfish man. He was insanely ambitious for glory, and the phrase "Custer's Luck" affords a good clue to his ruling passion. The public opinion regarding Custer is to a great extent formed from his writings and newspaper reports, and people having read these are very apt to refuse a hearing to the contrary statement, saying, in effect, 'Oh, we know better than that'; and it is on account of this feature in public opinion that I do not desire to put myself in a false position. People say: 'Oh, yes, Gen. Sturgis has had his son killed. He feels it, and, while the feeling lasts, is liable to exaggeration. [Note: Ironically that appears to be exactly the case in this letter!] Then, too, he was the head of this regiment and anxious to be sent out with it, but was not sent. Custer was sent in his stead, and now he feels hurt.' But that isn't it, altogether. What I would criticise is the want of judgment which drew these men into a trap. [Note: Gen. Sturgis suffered from the mistaken belief that Custer led his regiment into a carefully laid trap set by the Indians.]
Before the war there were some of the Army officers who had made reputations as Indian-fighters. The record will show them most successful Indian fighters, and, without any undue conceit, I think I may claim a place in that list. [Note: The list of successful Indian fighters is actually quite small and Sturgis is either delusional or possesses a strange sense of humor if he imagines his name to be on such a list.] I never went after them that I didn't catch them. The report of the Secretary of War in 1860 will show that I followed the Kiowas and Comanches so that their camps were entirely broken up, and they caused no further trouble. [Note: In the following summer campaign Sturgis would get his opportunity to demonstrate his military prowess in overtaking and bringing to a conclusive battle the Nez Perce. In this he failed on both counts.] Oakes and Hazen were also good Indian fighters. But the war is over; the old authorities that once knew us are all gone. A new set of officers have arisen, and a young America has grown up at the same time. Indian warfare is no picnic, as some people regard it. The Sioux can raise 6,000 or 7,000 men in a day's notice, and are quite formidable. [Note: This statement by Sturgis is a gross exaggeration and demonstrates one reason why he was not regarded by his superior officers as an effective Indian fighter.] Custer, you see, talked with Sheridan from day to day, and begged him to give him a chance to go on an expedition. [Note: In 1876 Custer was considered one of the leading Indian fighters in the U.S. Army.] I was sent up to St. Paul against my will.
As an illustration of the feeling with which Custer was regarded, let me tell you a short story. Two years ago I was at St. Paul, and Mr. Robinson, of the Times, came to me at the time Custer was making his expedition to the Black Hills. He spoke of Prof. Richeson, who was anxious to accompany Custer's expedition, and asked me what I thought of the propriety of doing so. I told him frankly just what I thought -- that Custer, in organizing and conducting that expedition, was really hunting up a fight with the Indians for his own glorification, and I didn't believe Custer knew enough of Indian character to fight the tribes to advantage, but was liable, in consequence of his underestimation of Indian resources and his over-estimation of his own skill, to be led into a trap, in which case, I told the gentleman, there would be no one left alive to tell the tale. As a result of that interview the party contemplating the excursion did not leave St. Paul. [Note: Gen. Sturgis' prognostications failed to come true in both cases. There was no Indian fight during the Black Hills expedition, nor was there any trap laid for Custer at the Little Big Horn.]
It is true that there was no attack in that [Black Hills] campaign, but now, at the first important attack, the prophecy was fulfilled. [Note: Sturgis' prophecy of Custer riding into a trap laid for him by the Indians at Little Big Horn was not fulfilled.] When I knew that my boy had gone out, and that General Terry was in command, I considered that we were tolerably fortunate. Terry has a matured judgment, and I looked for the campaign to be conducted on good military principles, instead of which, Custer made his attack recklessly, earlier by 36 to 48 hours than he should have done, and by men tired out by forced marches. Why, if they had caused the Indians to retreat, they could not possibly have followed them. [Note: Needless to say, Gen. Sturgis is incorrect on all of the above, with the possible exception of his admiration for the Indian-fighting qualities of Gen. Terry, which likely mirrored closely his own. The campaign was conducted on good military principles, Custer's attack on the Indian village was not made recklessly, nor was it earlier by 36 to 48 hours than expected, nor were his men worn out by forced marches.]
I feel too, that when the news is received from individuals of the regiment, it will fully sustain the position I take. [Note: In actuality, it did just the opposite.] Custer was not a popular man among his troops, by any means. He was tyrannical, and had no regard for the soldiers under him. [Note: Ironically, Custer was considered more popular among his troops than Gen. Sturgis ever was.]
Gen. Sturgis gave it as his opinion that the government will have to call for mounted volunteers to quell the Indian war, and that it will take at least 7,000 well disciplined cavalry men to do the work. [Note: True to form, Gen. Sturgis' prognostications were wrong again on both counts. No volunteers were raised to quell the Indian war, nor did it take anywhere close to 7,000 well disciplined cavalry men to do the work in ending the war.]
Last Edit: Mar 17, 2019 19:14:55 GMT -5 by moderator
"The more I see of movement here (Little Big Horn Battlefield), the more I have admiration for Custer, and I am satisfied his like will not be found very soon again.”
~ Gen. Nelson Miles, Commanding General of the Army ------
"With our cherished ones deliverance within our grasp we waited breathless two hours, for the order that never came."
From: The Daily Picayune, New Orleans, LA, July 17, 1876. The Custer Massacre. The New Version Of The Massacre Which St. Louis Army Officers Have Received.
GEN. STURGIS’S INFORMATION, (with annotations in brackets by Bill Rini)
A Times reported, in order to supply the universal demand for news from the Indian country and especially details concerning Custer’s defeat, yesterday called on Gen. Sturgis, at the Arsenal, and asked for any information that had reached him. As has been previously stated, Gen. Sturgis is Colonel of the 7th Cavalry, the ... [Regiment] that was so nearly destroyed, and Custer was Lieutenant Colonel of the same. Gen. Sturgis has commanded the regiment for years and is familiar with the capacity and character of every officer who has served in it. He showed the reporter a map of the Indian village and scene of action which he had just received from an officer of the regiment who rode over the ground and made the map from personal inspection.
The map shows that the Indian village attacked by Custer was immediately on the left or western bank of the Little Big Horn River. The Little Big Horn rises in the Big Horn Mountains, in the northern part of Wyoming and running due north empties into the Big Horn just 54 miles from the junction of the latter with the Yellowstone. The village extended for three miles along the western bank of the Little Big Horn. [Note: The hostile village was closer to two miles in length. After the battle, a portion of the village moved a mile or so further downriver, thus greatly expanding its size to subsequent observers.] The location of the village was known by Gen. Terry and he purposed attacking it simultaneously in front and rear. [Note: The actual location of the hostile village was not known to Gen. Terry at the time plans were made to send Custer in pursuit if its newly discovered trail.] In pursuance of this plan [note: there was no actual plan to attack the hostile village from the front and rear] he started Gen. Custer off on the 22d with orders to march not exceeding thirty miles a day. [Note: There was no restriction in Custer's orders not to exceed thirty miles a day. That figure was merely an average given for daily marches.] It is estimated that the Indian village was about 125 miles distant, by the route Custer was to pursue, from the mouth of the Rosebud, which was the point where Custer left Terry. [Note: This is not true, as the actual location of the hostile village was unknown to Gen. Terry or any of his officers at that time.] Gen. Terry informed Custer that he would proceed up the Yellowstone with the supply steamer “Far West” and ferry Gen. Gibbon’s command across the Yellowstone just a few miles west of the mouth of the Big Horn. Terry and Gibbon would then march almost due south, turning a little to the west as they neared the point of attack and strike the Indian village in its rear or west side on the 27th while Custer could attack on the front or east side. [Note: Again, a misconception of fact. There was no plan to attack the hostile village -- whose whereabouts were unknown -- by June 27th. Gen. Terry did mention that he hoped to have Gen. Gibbon's column in camp at the mouth of the Little Big Horn River -- 15 miles north of where the battle was actually fought -- by June 26th. There was no actual plan of a cooperated join attack on the hostile village at the time Custer received his pursuit orders.]
SIGNALS WERE AGREED UPON
So that each attacking party could now ... [determine] the other was in position, and with this understanding, Gen. Custer started on the fatal trip. [Note: Gen. Sturgis' entire premise is undermined by the false notion that there was a premeditated plan of a cooperated attack on the hostile village by both Custer and Gibbon's columns. In point of fact, such was not the case.] As is shown by Gen. Terry’s report, Custer began a forced march at once reaching the battlefield, 125 miles distant in two days and a half. In order to do this he marched 78 miles during the day and night of the 24th reaching the Indian village early on the 25th, two days earlier than the pre-arranged attack. [Note: This entire sentence is entirely false. Custer began a leisurely march for the first two days after leaving Terry, averaging less than 23 miles a day. There was no forced march until the final evening of June 24th. Sturgis' distances are wrong. Custer actually marched a distance of about 55 miles "on the day and night of the 24th reaching the village" about 1:30 pm on the 25th.]
A ROUNDABOUT COURSE.
Custer moved from the mouth of the Rosebud, where he left Terry, in a south-westerly direction, actually passing by the village [in the Little Big Horn valley], leaving it perhaps twenty or thirty miles to his right or west of him. [Note: Again, Gen. Sturgis' information is entirely wrong. The hostile village, as this time, had just recently entered the Little Big Horn valley and was still well south of Custer's route of march.] In following this course he obeyed orders, as Gen. Terry wanted him to get south of the village, and thus prevent the Indians from slipping off into the Big Horn Mountains. In case he reached the vicinity of the village earlier than the 27th, the day planned for the general attack, he was to take position on the Little Horn River, above and south of the village, but at a safe distance from it and keep himself posted by scouts until the signal for Terry’s attack should be made. [Note: This statement is ludicrous and illustrates Gen. Sturgis' relative ignorance regarding Plains Indian warfare. As pointed out before, there was no planned attack on the village on June 27th. But the idea that Custer could simply march down to the LBH River and plant his regiment there to remain unmolested by warriors who traveled 20 miles away to attack Crook's column a week before on the Rosebud illustrates an incredible naivete regarding the nature of Plains Indian warfare. At the very least, the village would be warned of an impending attack and would have scattered to the winds by the time June 27th arrived -- with Terry still dallying at the mouth of the Little Big Horn 15 miles away.]
THE FATAL VENTURE
On the 25th, knowing that Terry could not possibly be near enough to aid him, Custer made the attack. [Note: Gen. Sturgis conveniently neglects to mention that Custer's presence that morning had been discovered by hostile Indians from the village -- hence his decision to attack a day earlier than he planned.] The right, or east bank of the [Little Big Horn] river, except in the little valley on the stream, is a series of immense hills and deep ravines covered with forest and undergrowth. [Note: This description is accurate with the exception of the "ravines covered with forest and undergrowth. There was very little of the latter on Custer's field.] Custer moved down the river on the east side of these hills until he reached a point about three miles south of the village, when he ordered Major Reno with three companies to cross the river obliquely towards the northwest, and attack the south end of the village, while he (Custer) would move further north and crossing the river attack immediately in front, as that part of the village looking east was termed. Reno crossed, as ordered, and dismounted his men but was soon driven back [note: Reno decided to abandon his position in the valley on his own. He was not "driven" from it until he ordered a full retreat] and had to recross a mile lower down and take refuge in the hills.
THE ATTEMPT TO CROSS.
Custer, after leaving Reno, moved three miles north and down the river and attempted to cross, but was repulsed and retreated. [Note: Custer was more than likely engaged in a feint or demonstration to cross to draw the warriors off of Reno's routed battalion retreating from the valley.] He then made a [reconnaissance] circuit of about two miles [note: likely with just the Yates' squadron], moving behind the hills, and emerged [well] to the north of the village still lower down the river. During this time he had evidently suffered very little, as no opportunity had been offered for him to make a direct and vigorous attack.
THE POSITION OF THE SLAIN,
From this point, we must indicate the manner in which the fight was made and who led it. The bodies were piled upon each other in a large [Deep] ravine leading down to the river and sheltered by hills on each side. Very near the river, on its east bank, and on the opposite side from the Indian village [note: on June 25th the village was much further south. The day after the battle a portion of the village moved downriver to a position opposite the one mentioned above], the bodies of Lieuts. Sturgis and Porter were found, riddled with bullets, and piled around them in heaps the remains of private soldiers and non-commissioned officers [in Deep Ravine]. On a rise or sort of a hill at least a mile further back were found the bodies of Gen. Custer and all the commissioned officers expect the two named above and Lieut. Harrington, who is missing. [Note: Of interest here is Sturgis' mention of the bodies of his son, Lt. Sturgis, and Lt. Porter being found on the east side of the river in Deep Ravine. They would have been killed near the end of the fight, not, as Gen. Sturgis mistakenly believed, at the beginning.]
THE BLUNDERING THEORY.
Gen. Sturgis, while regretting to say anything against Gen. Custer, expresses the belief and feels sustained by the positions of the dead, that Custer, in the first place, did not believe the Indians would stand against a gallant and determined attack. Acting on this theory he sent Lieuts. Sturgis, Porter and Harrington, at the head of the three companies [note: in Sturgis' imagination, this would be companies E, I & C] to charge he Indians and kept around him the captains and chief officers as a body guard. Custer believed that the Indians would run and then he, with his small escort would charge down, take the lead, drive the Indians, and be awarded all the glory of the action. He calculated upon losing some of his men and thought it better to sacrifice young lieutenants than older and higher officers: besides, he preferred to be surrounded by the older officers as a guard for himself. [Note: This is quite a fanciful theory put forth by Gen. Sturgis; fortunately one not at all supported by either the facts nor of Custer's past history in combat.]
INTO THE VALLEY OF DEATH.
General Sturgis says the young lieutenants and their men went down to certain death and must have known it: that the Indians from the hill above shot them down by the score, but they fought until not a man was left. The Indians then, with their overwhelming numbers fell upon the little band of officers surrounding Custer and made short work of them. [Note: One of the more ludicrous theories put forth about the battle.]
FIXED FOR A PANIC.
Gen. Sturgis thinks that had Custer permitted the companies to go into action fully officered, instead of keeping the officers back with him, most of the carnage would have been prevented; because each company being led by a single officer, when he fell there nobody to rally or lead them, and they were shot down like sheep in a pen. But had the full complement of officers been at the head, when one fell others would probably have been left, and might have led the men out in some direction when they saw there was nothing but destruction of they remained.
THEY RUSHED TO THEIR DOOM.
The young lieutenants, all three scarcely more than youths, were ordered to make a charge, and with the impetuosity of youth they led their men directly against the foes; they probably fell at the first volley, leaving no officer to succeed them, and any man who has ever been in action is aware that the bravest troops in the world cannot accomplish anything, or even move, under fire without officer to guide and direct them. [Note: It would appear that Gen. Sturgis was still in severe mourning for the loss of his son, thus must be excused for concocting such a ludicrous and distasteful theory, completely unsupported by any real evidence.]
Last Edit: Apr 26, 2020 18:41:37 GMT -5 by moderator